Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kicking a Widgets Nest

I really enjoyed checking out Jllo's blog post below involving treating teachers as professionals.  I would highly recommend reading the entire series if you are at all interested in U.S. education policy.  I've always been extremely interested, somewhat secretly, in what can be done to cause real improvement in the educational system in our country in a way that reduces the horrific educational outcomes suffered by those students at the worst schools.  I know... a pretty simple problem I should have been able to figure out while showering or commuting.

Pictured:  a hotbed of critical thinking
The sad truth is that we (as a nation) throw tons of money at capital "E" Education with little to show for it.  According to the Department of Education, we have increased per pupil spending by 360% in inflation adjusted dollars between 1960 and 2007.  I'm not claiming to be an expert, but I doubt that anyone would argue that our ability to educate students has increased by 360% over the last 50 years, and I imagine quite a few folks would agree educational outcomes in this country have decline despite the great influx of cash to the system.

For the 2007-08 school year, Washington, D.C. spent $24,606 per pupil.  I happen to know of an excellent parochial school in northern Virgina that will provide a superb education even to folks like me who are not of their preferred religious persuasion for $15,350 for the 2011-2012 school year (more than double what it cost when I enrolled as a lowly frosh in 1998!  Alas the perils of inflation).  It's even cheaper if you happen to identify with their particular religious affiliation.  They will also dunk on your universe in basketball, no extra charge.

If anyone 1) reads this blog, 2) has made it this far down my post, I will now present my solution to the educational malaise of this country that I thought up entirely by listening to people smarter than me:  educational vouchers for all.  Vouchers of the kind championed by the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation (they were really smart and average .5 Nobel Prizes in Economics between them.).  The argument goes like this, in brief:

1. It is socially/morally/politically desirable for the public at large to finance the education of the youth of the nation.
2. The primary beneficiaries of a publicly financed education program should be the children, parents, and society at large.
3. In general, parents have the greatest interest in securing a quality education for their children.
4. The current system of government schools severely limits parents choice in the education of their children and places greater powers with administrators and political entities, i.e. school boards and departments of education.
5. The lack of parental choice and competition among schools severely erodes the incentive for current government schools to pursue excellence in education.
6. The burden of poor public schools and no school choice falls disproportionately on families of limited means.  They are stuck sending their children to public schools because they cannot afford to pay twice for the privilege of attending private schools; once in taxes that go to fund the public schools and then again in tuition to the private school.


1. Each child, via their parents, should receive a scholarship (voucher) redeemable in the amount of the per pupil spending in the child's local government school system for use towards tuition at any school, including other government run schools, so long as the school meets some minimum requirements.  For example, suppose Durham County spends $9,041 per pupil per year.  Under the voucher system, each Durham student would receive a scholarship in the amount of $9,041 towards the tuition at the school of her and her parent's choice.
2. The minimum requirements to qualify as a school under the program should be a minimal and consist only of bottom-line requirements of literacy and civic education.  The requirements should as unobtrusive as possible and be enforced similar to current health inspections at restaurants.
3. As a consequence of this program all parents will be free to select the best schools for their children.  Schools that provide excellent educations will prosper and thrive as more parents seek to enroll there, and schools that provide substandard educations will wither and close.
4. New private schools, whether non-profit, for-profit, or parochial will be established to serve increased demand.
5. Students from disadvantaged background will have a chance to escape the crippling cycle of poverty and poor education provided by the worst of the public schools.
6. Education standards will rise across America as schools increasingly compete with one another to provide greater educational value at lower cost.

Ta-da!  Problem solved.  Seeing as folks have been advocating this plan for more than 60 years, and yet it is in effect almost nowhere, lots of people are against this plan and for varying reasons, but it seems to make sense.  I'll leave it to our buzzing commentariat (ha ha!) to pick it apart.  But beware, Milton is watching you.


  1. Wait, so would there be no public schools under this plan?

    PS. Are you politicizing this blog??? I thought we just blogged about our household decor and hemodialysis...

  2. Public schools would still exist to the extent that people would be willing to spend their voucher in exchange for public school education.

    I didn't mean to politicize the blog too much, I'm sure I'll be back to yard work and dog care in no time!